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Thomas Chapman stared down at the woman in his bed and clenched his fists. Once upon a time, she had been a striking beauty, and all the men of the village had competed for her hand. Her parents had wanted her to marry for money, but she married for love instead. On their wedding day, he had been the proudest man in all the world, and she had been the most beautiful woman.

That was a long time ago, though, and the years had taken their toll on Hannah. She had grown fat, and her hair had turned grey. Hardship had sharpened her temper and her tongue, and she drank too much. If it weren’t for the children, he would have left her many years ago. But the children had to have a mother.

He turned and looked out of the window. In the distance, he could see a light burning in the window of the next farm over. A small smile crossed his lips. The children needed a mother, yes. But they didn’t need this fat, drunken harridan for a mother.

The widow at the next farm, Rose Martin, had made it all too clear. If only he were single, she’d sighed, they could wed and join their farms together. It would make them one of the largest landowners in the area. Not only that, but Rosie was a friendly woman, slim and beautiful with a wise, calm nature that Hannah had never had. She was a teetotal, churchgoing woman who had always wanted to be a mother, and would make an excellent one. The children loved her already.

He turned back to the bed and shook Hannah. He had bought her several bottles of beer and gin, and as a result she was completely passed out, far beyond consciousness. He picked up a pillow from his side of the bed and pressed it gently but firmly over her face. She barely struggled.

After a few minutes, he put the pillow back and paced around the room for a few minutes before settling into a chair and dozing fitfully. He would discover her death in the morning, when she failed to wake up.

Dawn finally broke, and he stood up. His first instinct was to run himself to fetch a doctor- that would seem authentic. But it would also mean leaving the children in the house alone with their dead mother. He couldn’t do that. After a moment’s thought, he decided to send the oldest with a message that wouldn’t unduly worry her. He went into the next room to wake his daughter.

“Get dressed, Alice. Go and tell Aunt Rosie… Go and tell Aunt Rosie that the old grey goose is dead.”

© Kari Fay

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